Blake Snow

writer-for-hire, content marketer, bestselling author

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Tagged music

I’m so glad Beethoven wrote this music

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbWrJWWn9nU[/youtube]

I’ve been an avid listener of classical music for twenty years. I’ve listened to greatest hits, lesser-known recommendations, countless composers, all three periods, one-hit wonders, atonal crap, catchy melodies, and everything in between.

While I wouldn’t call my exposure exhaustive, I will say it has been thorough. And while other composers achieved greatness in their own way, none of them come close to the prolific genius of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. It’s not even close.

This is one of those pieces that separates the cliche-but-deserving trifecta from their contemporaries. I absolutely adore it, because it sounds like two people discussing a serious issue without ever fully arguing it.

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With no electricity, my contributions cease to exist

Photo: Lindsey Snow

Photo: Lindsey Snow

I get paid to publish online stories. I love my job. But the harsh reality is my contributions cease to exist in the absence of power. Save for only a few printed artifacts, I don’t keep hardcopies of the hundreds of feature stories and thousands of blog posts I’ve written over the last decade.

I was humbled by that realization earlier this spring. The first two publications that ever paid me to write—Engadget’s gaming blog (Joystiq) and GigaOM—both shuttered within 30 days of each other. Their closures reminded me how impermanent life (and work) is. For now, my archives live on (here and here), but there’s no guarantee they’ll remain. They’ll be totally wiped out in a post-apocalyptic world like Mad Max: Fury Road (which you should run, not walk, to see right now).

Admittedly, I don’t sell life-altering work. I mostly help tech companies and media publications sell more widgets (i.e. products, services, or advertising) with believable stories that interest wide audiences. In any case, grasping your own insignificance is never easy. Big wheel keep on turning…

10 things I’m thankful for this instant

pointerTo help my brain stay wired for happiness, here are 10 random things I’m grateful for:
  1. Full head of hair. To all my bros (and any women) out there with thinning, balding, receding, or otherwise missing hair, I sympathize with you. I don’t know what it would be like without follicles. I imagine it’s drafty and uncomfortable. I’m grateful for a full coiffure.
  2. A titanium back. Six months ago, I had my lower back fused. Although my participation in high-impact activities involving running, jumping, and extreme bending have been cut short by two thirds a lifetime, I’m grateful for the $26,000 titanium rods, screws, and spacer that keep me upright and mobile now. With a new lease on life, I feel great. Continue reading…

Things dance class taught me: Gender roles, body talking, and the Cypress Hill two-step

Snow Family

Snow Family

My wife—hi, hot stuff!—bought me ballroom dance lessons for Christmas. Even though I can cut rug freestyle, I was really excited about taking formal instruction. After finishing the eight week course last week, I am pleased to report it did not disappoint.

I fully expected to learn some new moves, but I didn’t expect the class to broaden my worldview and deepen my appreciation for music. But it did. Here’s what ballroom dance lessons taught me:  Continue reading…

I was there: Great moments in rock history (or songs I wish I could play on guitar)

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKxNCNtMd0U[/youtube]

I learned to play guitar sometime in the spring of 1994. I did it in a single day. Sort of.

Although I knew how to mangle the open chords for A, C, D, E, and G in the months leading up to that fateful day, the instrument didn’t click with me until my brother and his friend Dylan Denny demonstrated how to play bar chords the night before. “You mean I just keep the same finger formation and slide up and down the neck to play any chord I like, even flats!?” I enthusiastically asked. “Yup,” they replied. “That’s the beautify of power chords.”

I was so excited by this revelation — this power, if you will — that I called in sick the next day (i.e. I faked a cough and my mom let me stay home from school).

Armed with this new “life hack,” I learned to play Green Day’s entire breakthrough album by ear that day. I was so elated, I didn’t even break for lunch, let alone breakfast. I just played, played, and played, stopping the CD only to find the right chord. I even learned a few of the album’s basic “fills,” or poor man’s solos, as I call them.

Upon returning from school, my brother and friend were impressed with my progress. It’s not every day a rhythm guitarist is born. From that day forward, I wanted to “play rhythm” forever.

That all changed on a Wednesday night 13 years later.  Continue reading…

Generationals: The best $8 album I’ve purchased this year

courtesy photo

courtesy photo

With exception to the food, my brother, brother-in-law, and consummate friend can’t stand New Orleans. I suspect it has nothing to do with the Big Easy or its people and everything to do with an insolvent business they endured there together.

Whatever the case, I hope the new album by New Orleans duo Generationals might somehow change their mind. It’s as distinct, influential, and catchy as the city they hail from. Certainly not as old and in no way related to jazz, the genre invented there. But the synth-driven, upbeat music will make you want to dance and put a smile on your face, which is good enough for me.

After five listens, I don’t think it’s as moving as their last album, but it’s one of the freshest works I’ve listened to all year, especially “Black Lemon,” “Gold Silver Diamond,” “Now Look at Me,” “Welcome to the Fire,” and “Would you Want Me.” If you’re in the mood for something new, I highly recommend at least a stream.

Four stars out of five.

PS – This is the best $10 album I’ve bought all year

Highly recommended: This wireless speaker has enriched my life

cambridge audio minx air 200

Exposing my kids to great music is a goal of mine. To accomplish this, I incessantly listen to back catalogs, one-hit wonders, greatest hits, new music, and low profile artists in search of the most timeless, dance-able, moving, and energetic songs. Then I test what I find among my household audience.

So far I’ve done an admirable job, with exception to sharing said music on a proper hi-fi. That all changed this year after acquiring the wireless Cambridge Air 200. It looks like an all-in-one Bose system, but sounds significantly richer, cleaner, and fuller without muddy sounds or the inflated Bose price.  Continue reading…

Should have known: Visually straight not the same as mathematically straight

Photo: Blake Snow

Photo: Blake Snow

For anyone with an intermediate understanding of graphic design, you’ll know that some shapes look better when visually centered as opposed to mathematically centered. I thought that truth would hold up over the weekend while hanging square records on my office wall. It didn’t.

As eagle-eyed readers will notice, the right side of the montage is a fourth of an inch lower than the left. I had my pencil, level, helpmeet (Hi, Lindsey!) and string handy, thinking I could crack this nut in minutes. An hour later, and while cursing my inability to recall basic geometric calculations, I thought to myself, “If I can keep it visually aligned, I’m sure it’ll look okay.”

By the time I finished, it was mathematically obvious: My estimation was wrong. Having already invested upwards of two hours on the job, and with the kids asking for the umpteenth time if we were “leaving for the pool yet?”, I hastily skewed some right side records to minimize the visual damage. In doing so, I messed up the two inch margins in between prints.

Although I once excelled at math in school, it’s a good thing I never became an engineer.

See also: Maybe mathematical art is a message from God

These 5 albums have monopolized my airwaves recently

RCA Records

RCA Records

Ordered by most spins so far this year. All worth a listen if you like rock music.

  1. Stay Young by Young Rival. Says my friend David, “Young Rival will fill the gap left behind by Band Of Skulls. Good find!”
  2. Voices by Phantogram. The ’90s called. They want their trip-hop back—their really, really good trip-hop minus the grittiness. Referred by my sister, Sara
  3. After the Disco by Broken Bells. Nice record to clean the house to. Or remember the Bee Gees by. Referred by my brother-in-law, Steven
  4. Heza by Generationals. Cool sound. Not a lot of catchiness, but groovy just the same. Referred by my colleague, Gavin
  5. Melophobia by Cage the Elephant. Ignoble winner of the loudness wars (i.e. poor mastering), but some rocking tracks on this.

NOTABLE MENTION: Morning Phase by Beck—Pleasant, but not as good as Sea Change

Smashing Pumpkins: “Like something from the 1900s,” my daughter says

Virgin Records

Virgin Records

Although they were one of my top three bands in high school, Smashing Pumpkins haven’t rattled my earbones much since. Maybe twice in the last decade.

To remedy that, I turned on Siamese Dream last week for myself and my posterity. My six-year old aspiring-drummer headbanged to it. My eight year old — who prefers electronic music — raised an eyebrow at it.

“Sounds like something from the 1900s,” she said unamused. I laughed and informed her that it was, more specifically, from the early 1990s, which reportedly took place two decades ago.

Well, when you put it that way…

Fun fact: Siamese Dream’s overly thick or “fat” sound is largely the result of up to 100 recorded guitar parts per song.

This performance gives me chills and makes me smile every time I watch it

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xqrn2q3WCS8[/youtube]

I get it. These guys are overplayed. The Old Navy of Rock ‘N Roll. Maybe even a bit pompous.

But if the above video doesn’t alter your opinion of said musicians, you’re a snob.

DISCLOSURE: U2 doesn’t make my top 10 or even top 20 band list. But I still believe they’re deserving of much of their success. This is my favorite song of theirs. And Achtung Baby is a ’90s masterpiece.

Here they are: My favorite albums of the year

Starcadian

Starcadian

Looking back, I won’t remember 2013 as a particularly strong year for music. But I did enjoy a handful of new and retro albums and have fond memories of listening to all of the below, ordered by most played to least played.  Continue reading…

Neighborhood violinist is music to my ears

Interpretation of dreams

Interpretation of dreams

Few things make my ears hurt more than listening to an untrained violinist. It’s insufferable. On the contrary, hearing a skilled violinist is a delight, perhaps second only to an expert piano player.

I listened to an accomplished violinist by accident recently. I was working. My window was open. It was raining. And then it started: a faint viola. A good one. It played for a solid hour without hitting a single stray note. It was the best live performance I’ve heard in a while.

I wonder if the player even knew their was an audience. I hope they practice again soon.

Readers: What’s your favorite unaccompanied solo instrument?

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Click: A few of my favorite links this month

link

In an effort to reduce the spam I email to friends and family, take this:

Top 25: My favorite songs

music_note2I was asked to compile a list of my top 25 songs for a recent family reunion. Here it is for all to see.

As for my methodology, I didn’t submit a single political or consensus vote (i.e. notice no Beatles songs or critically acclaimed “Smells like Teen Spirit”). I only picked songs that are personal favorites; great songs that have special meaning to me, even if some of them are admittedly inferior to others not included on this list. And since my remembering self is biased, the list skews to recent favorites.

Enjoy.  Continue reading…

Remember when I played in a band with the brother of Imagine Dragons?

Screen shot 2013-07-22 at 2.55.17 PMLast month, iTunes shuffled a humble group of songs to my playlist and with them a wave of nostalgia.

The tracks themselves aren’t much, just old, amateur recordings from a short-lived college band I played in. Before iTunes recalled them, I hadn’t heard them in almost a decade.

But they ain’t bad, either. I played drums. My good friend Robert played bass. And the older brother and manager (Hi, Mac!) from the singer of Imagine Dragons played guitar. That totally sounded like the 31 Flavors girl from Ferris Bueller or Chunk from Goonies, but whatever.  Continue reading…

With exception to rap, new music is abnormally good this year

2013 might be to the ’10s what 1991 was to the ’90s — a monstrous year for name brand music.

Phoenix already released their 4-star keeper. Vampire Weekend releases their third album next week to rave reviews (and another really great song). An all analog Daft Punk album follows a week later, which is also garnering favorable reviews and has a catchy summer single.

Then, Empire of the Sun, makers of one of my favorite albums of 2008, releases their second album in June. The first single is good stuff (and shot, by the way, in Bryce Canyon, Utah). And if the first five months are any indication, even more good vibes could crop up in the second half of the year.

As someone who likes to sing, dance, and play air guitar, I’m excited by the prospects. Calendar years are more memorable with good music.

Second class musicians: Why some bands hide touring members

touring-band-member

A friend and I have been discussing touring band members and studio musicians today. After I complimented Phoenix’s rockin’ touring drummer, my buddy emailed this:

“I always have mixed feelings about the use of utility musicians in live performances. While I appreciate Phoenix having them all clearly visible on stage, it drives me a little spare to see The Killers or Muse bury their spare fellas off behind some speakers. And then you have Green Day, who have had a second guitarist helping them out for over ten years, but he still isn’t a member of the band.”

Here was my reply: Continue reading…

Top 5 songs from Phoenix’s upcoming album, Bankrupt!

phoenix-bankrupt

I heard an advance preview of Phoenix’s upcoming album, Bankrupt. It does not disappoint. Overall, it rivals the must-own quality of their last three albums, and runs circles around their forgettable debut album.

While Bankrupt doesn’t charter new territory, it’s undeniably fun. It will make you want to dance and sing. It’s like eating a perfectly ripe peach in August after waiting a really long time to indulge in the familiar sweetness.

For all the people with good taste who plan on adding this album to their library, here are five essential tracks I suspect you’ll be humming most: Continue reading…

Blast from the past: This ’90s album aged well; one of the decade’s best

rentals

When Return of the Rentals released, I was sixteen. I instantly fell in love.

Not only was it a five star album then, it’s a five star one today. To put my money where my mouth is, I think it’s aged as well as Weezer’s seminal Blue Album, something not a lot of ’90s albums can say. (Anyone tried to listen to Nevermind lately? Yikes!)

The reason The Rentals debut still speaks to me is because I like playfulness, groovy synths, classical music, catchy melodies, and ’70s hard rock. That and it makes me want to dance. It makes me want to play air guitar, head bang, and sing aloud. It makes me want to start a band again, even though I never will. It’s like looking at an old photo of yourself and liking what you see. That’s a beautiful thing.

And just like it did when I was 16, the song “Move On” quells any desire I have to run away from my problems. Just singing the words is relief enough to face them. That’s why I love this album.

If you’ve never listened to it, or if you haven’t in years, I highly recommend a spin. You friends with P.?

The perks of hiring a piano teacher

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLjwkamp3lI[/youtube]

As part of her piano lessons, my 7 year-old studies one piece of classical music each week, hand-picked by her teacher.

Consequently, our entire family has been exposed to wonderful music, stuff well beyond the popular Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven pieces. It’s like we’re getting a personal classical music DJ or curator, in addition to professional lessons. Score!

I plan to make a compilation of our favorite new discoveries. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this playful, beautiful, and surprising dandy by Haydn, which was the study assignment for this week.

Enjoy.

One of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest verses

brian-johnson

And it came to pass, that rock ‘n’ roll was born. All across the land, every rockin’ band was blowing up a storm.

The guitar man got famous. The businessman got rich. And in every bar there was a super star with a seven year itch.

There were fifteen million fingers, learning how to play. And you could hear the fingers picking, and this is what they had to say: Let there be light. Sound. Drums. Guitar.

OOOOOOHHHHHHH, LET THERE BE ROCK!!!—Brian Johnson

I listen to this song often while working on my body. It never fails to get me going.

Deluxe edition? No thanks, musicians. I’ll stick with the “best of” album.

deluxe edition albumMusic consumers in recent years have no doubt noticed the growing trend of “deluxe edition” albums. They often feature 1.5-2 times the number of tracks, cost more, and feature an alternate album cover.

Here’s what they really are, though: A smart business and marketing proposition. A way to profit off throw away b-side songs, selling them to the most rabid of fans.

Thing is, I don’t even by the deluxe edition of my favorite bands. In my eyes, if a track isn’t good enough to make the original 10-12 song album, it’s not worth my time, no matter who wrote it. In fact, of the few deluxe albums I own, I can’t think of a single memorable, must-have, 4-5 star track.

So keep the deluxe edition, bands. I’m good.

Why I love web comments

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWcpw3GAAms[/youtube]

Reason #428: The YouTube comment thread for Maurice Ravel’s masterful single-movement crescendo, Boléro. Some of my favorites:

  • doesn’t anyone ever feel bad for the drummer?
  • if i could squeeze my whole childhood into one thing it? would be this song
  • If I had a dollar for every poorly written Ravel piece, I’d have zero? dollars.
  • I love the? part from 0:00 to 14:52
  • Little known fact is that this was originaly going to be the legend of zelda theme. Look? it up.
  • I’m more into house music,hip-hop and reagge but this music is? a master piece.
  • thumbs up? if your awesome taste of music brought you here.
  • The trombone part at 8:00 gives me goosebumps every time i hear it, without fail. amazing how jazz was such an influence in orchestral? 20th century music. love it!
  • As someone who has played this snare part, I can confirm that it is indeed excruciating.?

Although I really like this piece, the only thing I don’t like is the tempo change right at the ending climax. With the flat (or is it sharp?) notes, it comes off sounding a bit sloppy. If I were a conductor, I’d remix it to keep the tempo, kill the flat notes, and finish strong on the last note like it already does. Either way, the YouTube commenters are witty if not insightful.

Proof that lack of focus kills a company (or how to save Sony)

sony-tv

The New York times ran an insightful piece this weekend on the decline of Sony, which is valued at just a quarter of where it was a decade ago, and just one thirtieth the size of Apple:

“Sony makes too many models, and for none of them can they say, ‘This contains our best, most cutting-edge technology,’ ” Mr. Sakito said. “Apple, on the other hand, makes one amazing phone in just two colors and says, ‘This is the best.’ ”

In addition to department infighting, that really sums up Sony’s troubles: too much product, none of them hits. Continue reading…

My favorite song (and album) of the year so far

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W559OMp-gSA[/youtube]

The song: “All Alright” by Fun. I could sing this refrain all day long. And often do.

The album: Some Nights by Fun. The whole album makes me want to sing out loud, and that’s a pretty solid metric for a memorable album.

Admittedly, the lyrics are cringe inducing at times. The first song is absolutely trash — I deleted it. But eight of the other 10 tracks are a blast to sing to. And at 2 minutes in, “Stars” features the most groovy breakdown I’ve heard in years.

Individual song ratings after the break. Continue reading…

“Except once my pants are on, I make dubstep mixes”

turntableI’m just like the rest of you. I put my pants on one leg at a time. Only once my pants are on, I make amateur dubstep mixes.

I first heard dubstep a couple of years ago and largely wrote it off. A handful of kids in my community and some online colleagues swear by the stuff though. So instead of holding onto the opinion that it’s mostly noise, I decided to keep with the times and find out for myself.

After listening to hundreds of tracks, I hand pick 20 of my favorites and mixed them with my new decks. Then I recorded and edited the mix at 140 bpm in Ableton 8.

The result: I really like dubstep now and hope my mix can serve as a teaser to fans and non-fans alike. The genre works especially well as audio wallpaper and workout music, me thinks.

Enjoy. Listen here (right click to save) Track list here

Too close to call: Mat Kearney, M83 and Kooks in three way tie for album of year

album

What’s the best album of 2011? After tallying the votes, the venerable Smooth Harold announced today that the debate was “too close to call” and hereby awarded the honor to both Junk of the Heart by The Kooks and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming by M83.

“I couldn’t name just one,” Harold said via satellite transmission, while vacationing on an uncharted island with the Most Interesting Man in the World. “Junk of the Heart packs a tighter, more accessible punch, but the two disc Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is more rocking; more anthemic.

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Either way, you won’t hit the skip button on either of these records — a very difficult feat for any musician to accomplish. That alone is a testament to each album’s worthiness.”

Another album Harold liked from start to finish was the excellent Young Love by Mat Kearney. “Dude’s the new Coldplay,” Harold said, “when they were still releasing really good albums 10 years ago before burning out. Rant aside: Young Love is as beautiful and fun to listen as Junk of the Heart is poppy and Hurry Up is ’80s rocky.”

When asked what other albums he discovered and enjoyed this year, including records from previous years, Harold named Hymns for the Rebel Soul, Tourist History, Jimmy Cliff Ultimate Collection, Bag Raiders, AC/DC Greatest Hits, Holy Ghost!, This is Country Music, 50 Greatest Pieces of Classical Music, When Animals Stare, A-1-A, and 100 Christmas Classics as memorable favorites.

Readers: What was your album of the year?

My new favorite album pays tribute to catchy ’80s bands without copying them

9510-1Jacket.indd

The two-sided Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming by M83. 22 tracks. Catchy hooks. Soaring synthesizers. Big drums.

So far, Intro, Midnight City, Reunion, Claudia Lewis, This Bright Flash, OK Pal, and Steve Mc Queen are my favorite cuts.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

My shallow review of Steve Jobs’ official biography

wallpaper_steve

Assuming his biography well represents him, Steve Jobs was a jerk for much of his life. A work-a-holic with eating disorders, incredibly bratty, ruthless.

I’m sure a lot of devout followers will excuse his actions with “no one is perfect.” I prefer that justification, however, for people who are at least trying to improve their social skills with age, instead of sticking to their anti-social guns as Jobs did for much of his life.

Continue reading…

Junk of the Heart: My new favorite album

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCMykkcoyu8[/youtube]

I’ve listend to this album more than a dozen times after discovering it last week. Probably twice a day on average. Whole thing is good, from song 1-12. I’m not familiar with previous Kooks albums, but this is a gem—for certain to finish as a top 5 albums of the year.

Rockstar endorsements make my religion slightly less peculiar

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PF0h7oqUEQ[/youtube]

I’d be a Mormon even if one of the most poetic, influential, and “let’s bring keyboards and saxophones back” rockstars of the last decade wasn’t.

Plus, if I wanted to align myself closer with celebrity thinking, there are a lot more popular, less demanding belief systems in existence to boost my status.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to have Brandon Flowers of The Killers publicly casting his lot with mine. If anything, he rocks a religious promotional video better than other celebrities.

Of course, religion, following Christ, or believing in God will never be cool. Nor should it be. Depending on the community, persecution rightfully comes with the territory. (How else would deity test the faith of its followers?)

Nevertheless, it’s nice to have backup. Superstar DJs very much included.


We now return to regularly schedules jokes about magic underwear, big love, how religion (not greed) ruins the world, why educated people have a harder time believing in God than uneducated people, great and spacious buildings, how successful people often get prideful and turn into jerks, yesterday’s news that Joseph Smith was a controversial man since he was entitled to agency like everyone else (including other purported prophets), why neither atheist nor believers have faith-shattering proof of anything, and Christians calling other Christians non-Christians because the second group worships in a different way. Go figure.

See also:

I just did one of the most enriching things yet in my adult life

don't-touch-my-hatAt my daughter’s request, I read James Rumford’s Don’t Touch My Hat (a family favorite) to her kindergarten class.

I tell ya: I felt som’n fierce having 15 pairs of innocent eyes look up to me from a cozy reading rug while showing and telling the story. As I read, there was a sanctity and innocence in the room I haven’t felt in a very long time—maybe not since leaving grade school.

Admittedly, I’ve done a lot of satisfying things this year. I’ve even managed a few professional coups. But this is unexpectedly near the top of my “most gratifying” list for not only this year, but previous years as an adult and father.

More than anything, I’m humbled and honored that my daughter invited me. Magic is soaking my spine. And Rumford is dead on: It’s your heart that counts, not your hat.

PS — Vampire Weekend, you have no idea. The kids do stand a chance. I’ve seen it in their eyes.

I can’t stop listening to this album

black ghosts when animals stare

It’s called When Animals Stare by The Black Ghosts. It’s like Black Keys + Band of Skulls + Magnet. Which is awesome. And it doesn’t fade halfway through like most albums. Double Awesome.

Thanks for sharing, David.

See also: